Equipped with little more than books and art supplies to keep busy, a Spanish woman spent 500 days living in a cave underground with next to no contact with the outside world.
On November 20, 2021, Flamini descended 230 feet below the surface into a cave located outside of Granada in southern Spain. She wanted to spend 500 days alone underground—not only to test the limits of her personal self-sufficiency and mental fortitude, but also to help researchers understand what happens to the human mind and body under such extreme circumstances.
A support crew made the ambitious expedition, called Timecave, possible by leaving food deliveries at a designated drop-off point. They also monitored Flamini’s physical and mental condition remotely by watching videos she had recorded of herself inside the cave using two GoPro cameras. That footage will soon become part of a documentary about her endeavor.
“It was a personal challenge to overcome, like many others that she had done before,” says Elena Mera, a spokesperson for Timecave, to EFE’s Roberto Ruiz Oliva. “In this case, it also lent itself to all the studies that others wanted to conduct, with many scientists signing up.”
Researchers with the University of Granada are studying how the lack of contact with other humans, as well as the lack of access to daylight, affected Flamini’s perception of time. Meanwhile, scientists at Spain’s University of Almería are exploring the neuropsychological and cognitive effects of the experiment, per EFE. Kronohealth, a tech company focused on sleep, is also analyzing how Flamini’s rest may have been altered during her underground stint.
Roughly 300 days into the challenge, Flamini encountered a technical problem that required her to leave the cave for about eight days. But she spent that period alone in a tent and eventually resumed her underground endeavor.
Flamini likely set a new world record for the longest duration spent in a cave alone. Guinness World Records staffers are looking into her feat and whether a record exists for voluntary time spent in a cave, a spokesperson told Newsweek’s Jess Thompson. Currently, the record for “longest time survived trapped underground” is held by 33 Chilean and Bolivian miners who spent 69 days in a collapsed mine before being rescued in 2010.
When Flamini finally reached her target of 500 days, members of her support crew descended into the cave to retrieve her. She told reporters at a press conference after emerging that she was surprised the time was already up.
“I was sleeping—or at least dozing—when they came down to get me,” she said, as reported by the Guardian’s Sam Jones. “I thought something had happened. I said: ‘Already? No way.’ I hadn’t finished my book.”
But a lot did happen while Flamini was underground—including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Elizabeth II’s death and the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan—though she was totally unaware. She asked not to be notified of any news from the outside world, even the death of a family member or friend. Flamini said she stopped keeping track of time after about day 65 and perpetually felt like it was 4 a.m.
She passed the time underground exercising, preparing meals, reading books, weaving and drawing. While she did not shower, her support team removed her bodily waste every five days or so. One of the most difficult moments occurred when flies invaded the cave, but Flamini just dealt with it and moved on.
Though she experienced auditory hallucinations and, at one point, a strong craving for roast chicken, Flamini told reporters that she never once contemplated giving up early. “In fact, I didn’t want to come out,” she said, as reported by the Associated Press’ Ciarán Giles.
“It’s true that there were some difficult moments,” Flamini told reporters, per the Guardian. “But there were also some very beautiful moments—and I had both as I lived up to my commitment to living in a cave for 500 days.”